1 July 2016

Don't mess with Olivia de Havilland!

Classic cinema lovers all around the world are paying tribute to the marvellous Olivia de Havilland who has turned 100 today. Wow! My warmest congratulations to this remarkable, elegant lady who will always hold a special place in my cinematic heart. It was after all with Miss de Havilland and Errol Flynn that my love for classic Hollywood cinema began, especially after seeing them together in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Dodge City (1939), films that have remained favourites to this day. It wasn't until much later that I saw films with Olivia without Errol and also began to admire her as a 'solo actress', both as a dramatic actress and a comedienne.

But not only on-screen, also off-screen Miss de Havilland is a lady to be admired. What immediately comes to mind is the lawsuit she filed against her studio Warner Brothers in 1943. Back then actors were given a seven-year contract with a studio, but every time they refused a role and were put on suspension, the period of suspension was added to the contract period. This also happened to Olivia when she wanted to leave Warner Bros. in 1943 after her seven years were up. The studio told her that six months had been added to her contract but Olivia refused to accept this, took Warner Bros. to court— and won! (In the 1930s, Bette Davis also sued Warner Bros. but without success.) The decision of the court became state law and is still known today as the De Havilland Law.

That Olivia goes after the things she feels entitled to is also apparent from the following letter written to her agent Paul Kohner in May 1956. This time it doesn't involve a big Warner Bros. lawsuit but something much more trivial — postage costs. 

Olivia and Pierre Galante
In 1955, Olivia married her second husband Pierre Galante, a French editor for the magazine Paris Match, and moved with him to Paris where she has lived ever since. To have her fan mail forwarded from her Beverly Hills P.O. Box to Paris, Olivia sent a check of $100 to her agent's office to cover the postage costs. When she was told a year later that the $100 had all been spent, Olivia wrote to Kohner stating that the money couldn't be all gone, having carefully calculated the postage costs herself. In the letter shown below, Olivia describes in a very detailed manner how low, according to her, the postage costs actually were and says she believes "a most understandable error" has been made but that she wants $55 back. (I'm sure she didn't need the money, so it must have been a matter of principle.) 

Incidentally, the handwritten comments were added later by (presumably) Miss Heymann, assistant to Paul Kohner, who had agreed to forward the fan mail. Heymann states that Olivia was wrong, that they had already sent numerous packages by the time Olivia's check came. Obviously annoyed with the whole business, Heymann concludes with: "Now I say give her back the whole damn $100 & we cover the postage!"


69 Avenue Georges Mandel
Paris 16 France
May 26, 1956

Dear Paul:

A little over a year ago, I wrote your office requesting that it extend me the courtesy of forwarding to me monthly the fan-mail which accumulates in my Post Office Box number 1100 at the Beverly Hills Post Office. Miss Heymann kindly agreed to do this for me and I sent her, in February of 1955, a check made out to you for $100.00 to defray the costs of mailing.

Paul Kohner
Between February and July, a period of 5 months, I received several packages of such fan-mail forwarded in the manila envelopes used by your office for the mailing of scripts. I do not recall exactly how many such packages there were, but let us say there was a total of 8 in that period. I do not think the number could have been higher as I did not have a release of a picture during or previous to that time.

In July there came 3 packages, then none until October when another 3 arrived. After that, none whatever.
The check for $100.00 was endorsed and cashed in July, and part of the money was used to pay the Post Office Box rental charges for the year, the bill for which fell due at about that time, and the amount of which was $24.00. This left a balance of $76.00.

From this remaining amount, I imagine Miss Heymann deducted the postal charges for, shall we say, 8 packages of fan-mail. I assume that the total of such charges could not have exceeded $14.50, as the 3 envelopes containing the mail sent July 11, which I have kept, show postage amounting to: $1.58, $1.92, and $1.84 respectively, or a total of $5.34. A mean of these 3 figures is $1.78, which multiplies by 8 amounts to $14.24.

The 3 October envelopes show that Miss Heymann sent the mail by a less expensive mail classification, and the envelopes carry the following postage: 26 c, 41 c, and 39 c respectively, or a total of $1.06.
Adding all these figures together, i.e. $24 for P.O. Box rental, $14.50 for postage for the 5 months February-July, $5.34 for the 3 parcels mailed July 11, together with $1.06 postage for the 3 parcels mailed October 11, the total expenditures amount to:
$44.90 or $45

Subtracting this sum of my advance of $100.00 would indicate that a balance of $55.00 is coming to me.
I recently asked a former secretary of mine, Mrs. Marjorie Allen, to take over the responsibility of forwarding the mail to me and to obtain from Miss Heymann both my P.O. Box key and whatever funds were remaining from my deposit with her. Miss Heymann told Mrs. Allen that she had kept track of the postage charges at the beginning of the year but not at the end, and was sure that the entire sum had been absorbed and even, perhaps, exceeded, but for me not to bother about the presumably minor difference.
I was gratly [sic] surprised that the entire sum had been dispensed, and in double-checking the matter in the manner described to you in the early part of this letter, I have come to the conclusion that in not keeping a record Miss Heymann did not realize how very small the postal charges actually were.  She must be a very busy woman and it is a most understandable error.

However, as you can see, it is clear that your office owes me a minimum balance of $55.00 and I would appreciate your check for this amount.
Pierre joins me in very, very best wishes to you, Lupita, and Susan,


Handwritten comment (in part):
She is very wrong- by the time the check came we had sent numerous packages & I remember postages of $6, 7, 8 & such on several occasions. Maybe she should look at the envelopes. 

I didn't keep a record and don't know if R. kept one, since in the U.S. postage is not written down, but I told R. to keep track of what we spent for her originally [...] I must admit I didn't keep track myself, later on though maybe I should have- by the way the check went to the Companynot to me personally. I told her secretary I assumed it was about taken up [....] 
Personally I didn't want to use the check at all, which is why we sat on it so long- then I said why not- now I say give her back the whole damn $100 and we cover the postage!

Images of Olivia's letter courtesy of eMoviePoster.com

From top left, clockwise: Olivia in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), Dodge City (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Snake Pit (1947) and The Heiress (1949). Centre photo: Olivia as beautiful and graceful as ever photographed by Andy Gotts in 2014.

This post is my contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to check out all the other entries here.


  1. It is impossible to argue with some women!

    Imagine the postage costs today.

  2. I'm sorry, I just saw your post today! I will add it to today's wrap-up post!